Category Archives: Missions

Taxes: A Spiritual Issue

We are to pay taxes.  God has ordained government for certain functions.  What happens when government steps outside those functions for which it is ordained and established?  Are our tax dollars paying to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty? 

According to the Office of Management and Budget at the Heritage Foundation about 30cents of every tax dollar pays for those things. 70% of the federal budget goes to pay for welfare and dependency programs.  This is not as much a political issue as it is a spiritual issue.  Here is why:

lbj war on povertyA fundamental spiritual shift took place in our culture during the great depression. Our country began to look to government to provide and solve our problems instead of God. This spiritual problem accelerated with the Great Society plan in the 1960’s. All of these compassionate programs to help the needy, the underprivileged, those who are down and out began to be funded by the government. The war on poverty is now 50 years old and are there less poor people? Actually there are more people on food stamps now than ever before. In 2010 we spent almost $900 billion on welfare programs, more than we spent on the war in Iraq during all of G.W. Bush’s presidency.

Since the beginning of the war on poverty in 1964, the US has spent 15.9 Trillion dollars on welfare. The price tag for all the wars the US has fought is only 6.4 trillion. (Please don’t get me wrong. I am not in favor of war nor do I think, as some might accuse, that it is cheaper to kill people than help them. I am simply comparing numbers. Both Republicans and Democrats have suggested that fighting wars is the cause of such large spending and deficits. I am simply pointing out that this is not the case. These numbers come from the Heritage Foundation’s The Economy Hits Home: Poverty, pg.4.)

Having said all that let me emphasize that this is not a political problem. Both Republicans and Democrats have controlled the government and contributed to this. This is a spiritual problem. Why?

We have made an idol of the government and we worship it instead of God. I know our national motto is “In God We Trust.” But our actions are “In Govt we trust.”

uncle samWho do we look to for food, housing, jobs, education, child care, health care, and retirement? Whenever there is a problem or crisis the first thing out of people’s mouth is, “The govt should….   The govt needs to…” And politicians are quick to say, “We need a program that provides…..for all Americans.” Whenever a person looks to anything other than God to provide, that other becomes an idol. America is guilty of idolatry. We worship at the altar of big government. The only thing lacking is little wooden statues of Uncle Sam that we can bow before and pray.

Now I’ve heard many Christians, even Bishops say things like God judges nations on how they treat the poor and marginalized, the widows and orphans, the aliens and the unwanted. It is true. God will judge us on that scale. But God also sends nations into exile and slavery for idolatry. (See ancient history of Israel.)

We are to love our neighbor as our self, so how are we to care for the least of these if the government doesn’t do it?  What are your thoughts?  I’ll share a few of mine in the next post.

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Filed under Beliefs, Freedom, Government, History, Missions

Causanauts

Join the Cause - People Holding WordsHow many causes are there these days? There is a cause for everything. Every color of the rainbow (even the rainbow itself) represents something that I should support or denounce. A red X says I’m against human trafficking. A pink ribbon says I want to save the ta-tas. I’m green if I drive a hybrid. And on and on it goes. It seems each day is a day for a cause of some sort that calls me to action. Buy Tom’s shoes so that someone somewhere gets a pair of shoes. Don’t buy coffee unless it is free-trade coffee. Drink Coke from this can so we can save the polar bears.

Now don’t get me wrong – no, get me wrong if you want, I’ve had it. Let me put this as plainly as I can: Your cause does not make you a good person. I don’t care how great your cause is or how many you have. I don’t care if you have the bracelet, wear the t-shirt, eat the free range chicken, post a picture on facebook, or whatever other noble expression you choose to make your cause known. Your cause does not make you a good person.

Now why the attack on causes? I have nothing against people doing good things for others. But I am over the self-righteous attitude that comes with so many of these causes. I watch the church train our kids to be causanauts and call it discipleship. We preach a works-righteousness religion. We tell them, “You had better sleep in this cardboard box for the night to show your solidarity with homeless people or you don’t care.” We dress up the cause with a Scripture verse and then declare that it is our Christian duty to support or protest whatever it is. That is nothing more that a first-class guilt trip. And it is exactly what the Pharisees did to the people of Israel.

Preaching this religion causes spiritual pride faster than any else I can thinkbracelet of. “I’m a good person. I support_______, I bought the right kind of _________, I posted ________ on my FB. I’m aware. I care.” Don’t kid yourself. You feel better when you have the cause de jour in front of others. That’s why there are so many Causanauts. We all want to feel good about ourselves in a culture where good is relative. We trumpet our cause because we want to be good in a culture that no longer has a definition of good. Causes give people who don’t believe in morals moral authority.

The Bible teaches us in Micah 6:8 to “do justly, love mercy and (get this) walk humbly with your God.” Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:1-4, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ (read: causes) before men to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets (read: FB, bracelets, t-shirts, ribbons, etc), as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be done in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done is secret, will reward you.”

Jesus tells us to do these good things in secret because it will prevent us from becoming prideful and believing that we are good people. The good things we do can actually callous our hearts and prevent us from hearing the truth about who we really are and what we really need to do in order to be justified before a holy God.

Luke 18:9-14 illustrates it perfectly. To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Causanauts are like the Pharisee, blinded and calloused by his own good deeds. He could not see the truth about who he really was: a sinner who couldn’t possible do enough good things to measure up to a Holy God. He thought he was a good person. As a result he did not go home justified before God. The tax collector who could admit the truth about himself, a sinner, was able to get right with God. You cannot have a relationship with Christ when you think you are good enough because you cannot see the evil in your own heart and repent.

Jesus warns those who practice a works-righteousness religion. Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Many people will list their causes and all they did, even in His name, on that day only to be turned away. The only way to be justified before God is to admit you are not a good person, surrender to Jesus, and let His righteousness cover you.

Do good deeds. Love God. Love others. But don’t be a Causanaut. It doesn’t end well.

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Filed under Discipleship, Missions, Social Justice

Words Are Necessary

Years ago as a youth director I inherited a poster as I moved into my new office that had a famous quote from St. Francis, “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.” It expresses a great truth. Every sphere of our lives, the totality of our existence, is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. All our thoughts, actions, reactions, and our words are to preach Jesus. However, after a few months I began to notice that the quote from Francis was being used to justify not preaching the gospel.

A mindset had developed among the youth that as long as we did good things, then we did not have to talk about the sin that was corrupting our lives, repenting from it, turning to Jesus to forgive, cleanse, and save us from it, and receiving new life from Him. And we certainly did not have to share that good news with those around us. “A picture is worth a thousand words. Actions speak louder than words.” It had been decided that words were not necessary.

I see the same thing in many churches today. The emphasis is on our “social witness.” As Methodists we love to say “both/and” not “either/or.” We are to preach with words and deeds. However it appears that our “both/and” has made the Word ride in the back of the bus.

What are we preaching? I hear plenty of ideology and works, but not the gospel. I hear calls for racial reconciliation, gender inclusion, even churches that call themselves “reconciling congregations”. But I do not hear calls for reconciliation with God. Where are the cries for repentance from sin and the good news of new life found in Christ?

Perhaps the reason we are more willing to preach with works more than words is because the message is foolishness. The world has rejected the idea of sin and to hear the gospel is to hear that apart from Christ we are already dead in sin with no hope. Hearing a message that says, “We are wrong and must turn to Jesus and be forgiven or be destroyed in our sin” is not going to win favor among the intellectuals in our society. We will be looked down upon by the cultured and sophisticated. To preach Jesus as the only way to the Father will cause us to lose the moniker, “open-minded.” Is that label more important to us than helping sinners “flee the wrath to come?”

I heard a well-known Christian speaker celebrating the success of a mission trip to Mexico with some college students. He told them how great it was that they were able to minister to the needs of the people and share the love of God with them without even having to mention the name of Jesus. Really?

Jesus began his ministry in his home synagogue and read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19.

And again in 4:43 He says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I came.” Jesus definitely did both. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, raised the dead, associated with the outcasts, found the lost and much more. But it was for His message, not the healings and good works, that Jesus was crucified.

Demonstrating the kingdom of God by our actions is integral. I am not trying to diminish that at all. I am hoping that our church will once again put words to our actions. “For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:13-14.

To do good works without preaching the good news makes us the United Way not the United Methodist Church. We must preach the Gospel. Words are necessary.

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Filed under Beliefs, Bible, Church, Discipleship, Holiness, Methodism, Missions, Preaching, Revival, Social Justice